Since I ran the inaugural Indiana University Mini-Marathon on my 25th birthday in 2006, I have been slightly obsessed with half-marathons, and road races of all distances. I have now run three Indy Minis, as well as innumerable 5-milers and 5Ks, including the 2007 Indy Mini Day's 5K, that just three and a half months after I was in a fairly serious car wreck.
My best Mini time? One hour, 37 minutes, in 2009. Really happy with that, but I don't know if I'll ever top it, which is vexing. Here are my tips on making Saturday's 500 Festival Mini-Marathon (May 5, 7:30 a.m.) a thoroughly enjoyable experience—beforehand, in the thick of it, and in the beloved/accursed aftermath.
>> Carb load. Get a delicious Italian dinner the night before. Favorites that I've returned to: Osteria Pronto (right by the starting line!), SoBro's Mama Carolla's, and Buca di Beppo.
>> Check out the Mini Expo at the downtown convention center. You may score some great swag, and the samples and merch booths are informative, tasty, and just fun. The expo has a great vibe.
>> Get a great night's rest. You should have done this all week, as well as tapered down your training runs to nothing a few days before, but you've got to sleep well the night ahead of the fun.
>> Go to the bathroom before the race. Just trust.
>> Gnaw on or suck down those electrolyte-injected sport beans and energy gels. I get them at Blue Mile running-gear stores.
>> Take along your iPod. By all means, listen to embarrassing, beat-laden pop music. Blast that Rihanna. Do what you must.
>> Remember: It's about setting a personal best. Yes, the Kenyans will be crossing the finish line while you're toiling on the Speedway track. Yes, you will watch this on the Jumbo-tron screens in there. Do not despair!
>> Bathe in apple-cider vinegar after the fact. No joke: It takes the sting out of your legs. Get two big bottles at the grocery. Empty them into your tub's running water. Thank me later.
>> Eat too much the morning of. You will see it later. I have just a banana and some of those sport beans with water.
>> Start too fast, beyond how you trained. You will surely burn out by mile 6 or 7, and the last few miles will be the longest ever.
>> Get discouraged about the IMS track. I find its roughly 2.5-mile track (banked at the turns for racecars) to be underwhelming, almost deadening. It's long and gray and dull in there, with zero fans in the stands. Enjoy the random cheerleading squads and duck your head down.
>> Avoid the water and sport-drink stations. You're not above them. You will need it. Otherwise your body will betray you.
>> Think it's over when it's over. You need to stretch and refuel, sooner than later. Bypass that, and you'll feel it for days. (Personally, I'm fond of rewarding the dedication over previous weeks and months by inhaling a few Dunkin Donuts after lunching at Scotty's Brewhouse downtown. Yea, I enjoy canceling out the day's big run.)
Above all, enjoy it. This is the largest half-marathon in the nation, and the organizers run a tight ship. Believe in yourself, have good humor, and recall that—in the words of a sign that a girl held up at the start of the 2009 race—"YOU ARE ALL KENYANS."
Photos via Jonathan Scott and John Ruzich